Transcript of this sermon
In Church today we have heard two Bible readings. First, we heard one of the earliest stories the people of Israel tell about their Genesis, their beginning as a unique community. The second is a bizarre teaching from Jesus, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”.
These Bible readings have left me with two words: identity and death: these two questions are questions about the meaning of life. They get to the heart of the existential questions we all grapple with: “Who am I?” and “Is death the end?”
We have had too many funerals recently. More than we, as a community and indeed as a world, have wanted to bear. The emotional pain of an empty chair where someone used to sit, is like a raw wound and the slightest memory kicks our knees out from beneath us. In grief we can become isolated as family and friends just don’t know what to say. From our birth we are on a journey towards death and yet… when it comes unexpectedly: there is a shaking of the fists in the face of time, “Where did our lives go?”
These questions, “is death the end” and “who am I” seem to be linked together by a desire to find meaning. If death is the end, then meaning can only be found while we’re alive, if there is any meaning in our physical bodies.
What is this thing I call me? This old skin bag full of water and biochemistry: a colony of bacteria, a neural network of synapses responding to bioelectrical nerve signals. Is love anything more than a hormone response to a pheromone signal translated into a genetically coded imperative to reproduce and secure the ongoing life of our offspring? If this is the only meaning to life, then we are nothing more than a disposable carbon based carrier bag for our DNA. Even our bodies betray us once we’ve served our purpose.
People who don’t understand Christian faith sometimes think our certainty about life after death is like an insurance policy for the hereafter: as though Christening and Church attendance are like documents to wave at St Peter as we approach heaven’s passport control. And yet, as Christian funeral liturgy says… “Christians have always understood that there is hope in death as there is in life, and that there is new life in Christ Jesus. Life beyond death.”
The emphasis of Christian faith is life, not death. Life in all its fullness, here and now, not just a hope of heaven after death, but an actual expectation of heaven on earth… emerging from the hearts and hands of our lives today.
So, when Jesus says, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”: he’s not just talking about the end of our mortal lives, but what it really means to be alive today.
Losing my life for Jesus changed everything for me. But this was not one moment: for me it was a spiritual journey… but not spiritual in terms of sitting in a temple waiting for enlightenment, it was spiritual in a physical and intellectual way…
Losing my life for Jesus has involved using my brain to find an integrity to my faith. I couldn’t be satisfied to a fairy-tale faith based on nothing more than a fuzzy feeling of hope. Being in a relationship with Jesus has honoured my scientific and enquiring mind.
Losing my life for Jesus has involved using my body – to physically approach God in the wilderness and seek him. To change the way I use my hands – to both receive and to give.
Losing my life to Jesus has taken everything that I know and love, and drenched it in a new light. A light in which words and actions have a deeper meaning than they ever did before. The poverty of my life has been transformed by the riches of God’s grace. I tend to think of myself now as ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. I still go to the pub, ride my bike, walk the dog, read science fiction, take part in Royal Society of Chemistry events… I still pogo round the kitchen to loud music… yet there is no longer a need to fill life with meaning. In truth it is the other way round: instead of me filling life with meaning, life fills me with meaning.
Returning to the two questions I started with: “Who am I?” and “Is death the end?”
- How about you?
- Does your Christian faith help you to answer these questions?
- How can we help each other to answer these questions?
- How can we share our understanding with those who do not have answers to these questions?
This is life changing stuff – identity altering stuff. It is an understanding that changes lives – frees us from fear of death – brings us the promise of not just eternal life in the future but in the now. It’s changed me and I want everyone to have the same opportunity. God wants everyone to have that opportunity – it is why Jesus came. It is why we are called to share our faith, so that the whole world may be transformed.